Todd and Jackie Beedy had to wait a week for the results of blood tests to tell them their first-born son, Sam, had Down syndrome. During the wait, they read as much material as they could.
They also did what all good parents do. They worried.
“You think about all the things they’re not going to be able to do and how they’re going to be different because you don’t know any better,” Jackie said.
They never imagined 18 years later Sam would be a Moorhead High School Homecoming King, adored by football, hockey and baseball players. They never imagined they’d be walking through the grocery store and countless people they didn’t know would be saying hello to Sam.
“Through the years, it hasn’t been about what he can’t do,” Jackie said. “It’s about all the things he can do.”
That was evident early when it came to sports.
Todd simply didn’t think Sam playing hockey was going to work. He had read children with Down syndrome didn’t like restrictive clothing like pads or a helmet or strange material like a mouth guard.
They had tried Sam skating at around the age of 4, but Sam enjoyed the attention from the girls at the lessons far more than the actual skating. Driving home from work to pick up Sam for his first practice around the age of 6, Todd knew he was going to have to fight with Sam to get all his pads on. Todd was wrong.
“I came home and he had all his pads on and his mouth guard in,” Todd said.
Eventually, Sam couldn’t keep playing with his teammates and friends like Carter Howell or Cole O’Connell or his younger brother, Jake, when checking began. In order to find a way to stay with his friends, Sam became a manager of the hockey team last season through Spud team manager Cooper Czichotzki. Czichotzki grew up with Sam, meeting him when he was 5 through hockey.
“There’s not a day I don’t laugh when the kid is around,” Czichotzki said. “He makes the atmosphere more fun. After a tough loss, he can cheer up the locker room.”
Sam followed Czichotzki as his right-hand man, managing in the dugout for baseball in the spring and the sideline for football in the fall. He’s back helping manage the hockey team this season.
“I don’t know how much managing he does,” Jackie said with a laugh. “He’s upbeat and he’s funny. If they have a bad game, he’s a pat on the back. He’s just hilarious to have in the locker room. When maybe (Moorhead hockey coach Jon) Ammerman yells at them, Sam is the first one to pat them on the back and make sure they’re OK after they have their butt chewed.”
He doesn’t need to do any managing. He does plenty for the players, whether it’s nearly hitting Ammerman in the head with a puck during practice he’s trying to throw back on the ice or displaying his obsession with ranch dressing on any kind of food the team gets on the road.
There’s also the time he walked into the locker room after a loss in youth hockey and said, “You guys suck,” or when he said his brother wouldn’t get dinner if the team didn’t win in a pregame speech. Or there’s the time the team found him sleeping on a table with his backpack on the practice after a late road trip from Roseau last season.
“He gets to hang out with the guys that he doesn’t see around school,” Jake Beedy said. “It’s awesome, seeing how much fun they have with him. I just think he thinks it’s really cool that we play sports and all the fans and stuff. He just thinks it’s awesome.”
They think Sam is awesome.
“You learn not to take for granted the chances you get in sports. He can’t play with us and would love to,” O’Connell said. “He’s always been one of us.”
“You could have a bad day of practice, bad day at school and you see him and he brightens your day,” Howell said. “He’s one of us. That’s how we see it. He’s on the team just as much as I am or anyone.”
Despite nearly getting hit in the head with a puck occasionally at practice, when Ammerman turns his head to yell at the thrower and sees Sam laughing in the stands, everything gets put in perspective.
“He’s part of our team,” Ammerman said. “When we lose there’s nobody as disappointed as Sam, but if we win there’s also nobody happier.”
After an overtime loss to Roseau last Tuesday, there was Sam in the Moorhead locker room the next day making the players laugh over a story about getting in trouble for bouncing a basketball in the commons area at Moorhead High School.
“Things like that gives us some time to reflect,” Ammerman said. “We lost yesterday, but we have a chance to get better today. We have a chance to rebound.”
The reality is the team needs Sam as much Sam needs the team.
“You read so much about kids and bad things they do,” Todd said. “There’s so much good from so many people. Families we have known or gotten to know or don’t know that are good to Sam. People always come over to talk to Sam and see how he’s doing and it’s not just in front of me. It gets underplayed how good so many kids are.”
You don’t have to tell Sam.
“I’m just happy to be a Spud,” Sam said.